In the Spring of 2016 I taught a course entitled Environmental Ethics at Susquehanna University in Selinsgrove, PA. One of the assignments was to choose an environmental film and write a review in which they address the question of who or what is to be included in moral consideration, according to the film. They also needed to take and justify an ethical position on the environmental problem depicted in the film using the theological, ethical and philosophical vocabularies we covered in class. Finally, they were asked to explore the ambiguities and challenges of the problem and articulate what they would suggest a viewer do after watching the film.
I invited some of the students to share their reviews as a guest blog post:
Instructor: Dr. Leah Schade
The film Journey of the Universe took me through an experience like no other. The film starts by showing a beautiful part of earth that has not been heavily impacted by the industrial machine and really lets you take in the beauty of the world. It connects that beauty of the landscape with everything else in the entire universe. By making this connection, the film tries to interconnect human beings to nature; this in turn gets the viewer to really question what level of respect for nature we really have. This film’s use of an interconnected way of life tries to show viewers that we as humans are a part of something much bigger than ourselves and we should respect the earth and all life (organic and non-organic) that it holds.
The film starts our journey by showing the Big Bang. It then goes on to explain that every element that is in our universe today can be traced back to that initial spark. Everything we know today is from that one event, and the film is trying to show the association that we have with all of earth and that we are all derived from the same material. It is demanding that we work in a mutual relationship with our environment and have the common decency to respect our mother earth. Picture the earth as a living cell. The earth has many mechanisms to adapt over time. This concept is a known as Gaia Theory. Gaia Theory postulates that humans and other organic life creates a self-sustaining system of this planet which is designed to thrive. This film introduces concepts of Gaia Theory to the viewer and expresses to the viewer that we and the earth are partners. This concept of human and nature being intertwined is also seen in Hindu religion. For example, a passage from the Vana Purana (12.26) states:
Let all the great elements bless the dawning day:
Earth with its smell, water with its taste,
fire with its radiance, air with its touch,
and sky with its sound.
This passage directly connects different elements of the earth with human senses in order to encourage humans to understand that they are truly dependent on nature. Lately, we have not been treating the earth as a partner but more as a slave to us. With the drastically increasing population problem that we have today, we are finding that space to hold this huge number of people is decreasing rapidly which ends up hurting nearly all other species that live on this planet. We want to push and advance the human agenda, but many are not realizing the irreversible damage that is being done to the planet.
The earth had a much greater amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere many million years ago because the sun was cooler than it is now. As the sun has heated up over the millennia because of nuclear fission, the earth needed to cool itself down and it did this by releasing some of the carbon into the air and creating carbon-based shells for early aquatic life. This adaptability of the earth has been the reason why the planet is stable and able to thrive and function so well after billions of years.
However, with the advancing science and technology that is around us today, we are forcing nature to work for us and meet our demands instead of living in a healthy relationship with her. This film suggests that we should not be making this earth our slave, but regarding it as sacred, perhaps even as a divine mother. This notion of divine feminine is also seen in Hindu tradition. “[T]he imaging of the divine and human ‘feminine’ as expressions of creative and sustainive cosmic energy underlying the phenomenal world, are ideas capable of feminist and ecological interpretation.” This concept of treating the earth as a divine being has been instilled in cultures for generations, but for some reason has been forgotten in Western culture. The nurture and passion we put out towards the earth will be given back to us by the planet’s increasing beauty and stability. This once again connects the earth and all of its inhabitants to each other and demonstrates that we are not different from the ground on which we walk; so, we should treat that ground with as much respect and passion as we would our own mother or brother.
After watching this film, the question becomes: What can I do? How can I stop this vast problem that seems to be getting more and more out of hand? Well, the answer all starts just like our universe did: with a spark. As with the creation of the universe, a spark so small can create so much. Go against societal norms and start asking how it can be stopped. A spark or an idea can influence so much no matter how small. That is what is needed in order to change the increasingly growing reality of our slowly dying planet.
Executive ProducersMary Evelyn Tucker
Brian Thomas Swimme
Brian Thomas Swimme
 "Gaia Hypothesis." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 10 Mar. 2016.
 Gottlieb, Roger S. "Hinduism and Deep Ecology." This Sacred Earth Religion, Nature, Environment. Florence: Taylor and Francis, 2003. 302.
 Ruether, Rosemary Radford. "The Greening of World Religions - Hinduism."Integrating Ecofeminism, Globalization, and World Religions. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2005. 53.